thu 30/05/2024

The Handmaid's Tale, Series 1 finale, Channel 4 review - exquisite to look at but glacially slow | reviews, news & interviews

The Handmaid's Tale, Series 1 finale, Channel 4 review - exquisite to look at but glacially slow

The Handmaid's Tale, Series 1 finale, Channel 4 review - exquisite to look at but glacially slow

Not so much an ending, more a set-up for series 2

Nightmare in Gilead: Offred (Elisabeth Moss, far right) and her fellow handmaids

Come awards time, it’s inevitable that Elisabeth Moss will be collecting a few for her portrayal of Offred, the endlessly-suffering lead character in The Handmaid’s Tale (her real name is June). But I reckon the real stars of the show are cinematographer Colin Watkinson plus the production design and art direction teams.

What made Handmaid grip from the start was its photography and its balefully beautiful colour palette.

There were those post-Puritan white and maroon outfits worn by Offred and her fellow-handmaids, often choreographed en masse in muted, wintry New England landscapes, and interiors draped in soft, gauzy light and melancholic near-sepia colourings. There was a scene in this series closer when Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), the bitterly dissatisfied wife of Commander Fred (Joseph Fiennes, pictured below), was framed in a bedroom that looked like a lost Arts and Crafts masterpiece, with its hanging illustrations of birds and flowers, and drapes, wallpapers and Serena Joy’s dress in subtly matched teal-like shades.

The series has been so spellbinding to look at that it became quite easy to overlook the fact that dramatic development frequently ground to a halt. Once the nature of the brutish Republic of Gilead had been established, and we’d got the hang of a fascistic theocracy run by bullying, hypocritical men in which women weren’t allowed to read books, handle money or get jobs and were only there to procreate – by force, in the case of the handmaids – a lot of the running time was taken up merely by observing the drab and fearful routines of the people stuck in this Old Testament nightmare. Another notable victim is Serena Joy (pictured below), one of the intellectual architects of the Gilead project who was horrified to find that she’d written herself out of her own life. Duh.

Some critics have decided that Gilead is a representation of Trump’s America, though his bickering gang who couldn’t shoot straight would have difficulty organising a Little League baseball game, let alone overthrowing the American Constitution. Surely what Handmaid most resembles is rule by ISIS or the Taliban, whose hideous punishments and mutilations, public executions and institutionalised rape would be all too recognisable to Offred. An opportunity to ponder religious extremism in all its forms, perhaps.

Atwood’s source novel has been mined thoroughly for series one, so the planned series 2 (and beyond) will depend on the creativity of the screenwriters. This risks shifting it away from the author’s original design of an imaginative exploration of what an ultra-religious or totalitarian takeover of a US-style democracy might look like – though it’s hard to see how this bunch of sick weirdos could have managed it – and turn it into just another adventure series.

Thus, one began to suspect that the production team were eking out their source material as parsimoniously as possible as the episodes slid glacially by. Action sequences have been minimal, though effective – the scene of protesters being ruthlessly crushed by heavily-armed militia spoke volumes about the Gilead mentality, while most of one episode was given over to the story of how Offred’s husband managed to escape to still-democratic Canada with help from the underground resistance movement.

This finale brought us a pivotal moment when the handmaids refused orders to stone to death one of their own, after which Offred was carted off by thuggish goons in a black SUV. She might be about to be rescued, or she may have been condemned to death. The incongruous strains of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” ringing out over the end shot – “she couldn’t help thinkin’ that there was a little more to life somewhere else”– must surely betoken an optimistic outcome. But having reached this climactic moment, it was exasperating not to to get an ending, but be told to go away and wait for the second season.

Surely what 'Handmaid' most resembles is rule by ISIS or the Taliban


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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It's how the book ends too.

Yes, except for the epilogue.

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